Friday, April 20, 2012

Book Review - Listening to Africa


Listening to Africa

By: Diana M. Raab
Publisher: Antrim House
Publication Date: March 2012
ISBN: 978-1-936482-18-4
Reviewed by: Eloise Michael
Review Date: April 21, 2012

“Pulled to Africa,” the second poem in this collection, sets the stage for Listening to Africa, in which readers go on safari with author, Diana Raab, and her family. While Raab's daughter is photographing the sights, Raab is taking snapshots, as well, capturing images from the journey with pencil and notebook. These poems are arranged in order, as in a picture-album, beginning in the United States around Christmas time, when Raab first contemplates the trip, and traveling through Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe, to return home again shortly after New Year's Day.

Some poems are snapshots of animals, of course, since the family is on safari. Others are impressions of people and the culture of the places Raab visits. All are set against the backdrop of an African landscape or the depth of its night.

Raab describes images from the trip, but the poems in this collection are also personal. They allude to a second journey. The safari begins after the anniversary of her father's death, at a time when Raab is contemplating her own mortality, having been diagnosed with cancer. In “Christmas Woes,” (pg. 12) she describes her frame of mind shortly before traveling to Africa.

Christmas Woes

The scent of Christmas
litters its sadness,
as it signals the time of my dear father's passing
reminding me


how sad memories
stick to holidays
like ink smudges on
clean sheets of paper.
My heart feels stepped upon,


this crushing sensation
on the same beating muscle
inherited from my dad
with all its plaques of love,
as I press on in his footsteps


in the hope that he watches down
on my dreams postponed
during this painful
month of December.
How to disarm this month's power


with its sorrowful sun-beaten soil?
I climb the stairs one step at a time
uncovering this mysterious continent
with the same shape of a hand gun.


Raab is struck by the disease and death that are commonplace in the countries she visits. This is a contrast to the more sterile world she is accustomed to. At the same time, she writes, in “Digestive Paranoia,” (pg. 18) “my latent cancer cells which I carry in my mind and marrow, must never be awakened.” Raab brings her own disease with her, and this undercurrent, though subtle, is present throughout the journey.

Raab writes of home in “Bush Solace,” (pg. 28) saying, “as much as you can pack into one suitcase, it will never be enough to erase the feeling of homesickness knotted in your solar plexus.” By the end of the safari, she is ready to return to the United States, and that longing brings Listening to Africa full circle. The collection ends with the final evening, the departure morning, and ultimately a poem entitled “Trip Summary.” (pg. 66) Raab writes that Africa still tugs at her, leaving readers with a sense that she will always have a connection to this place and that the parallel inner journey goes on.

Quill says: Snapshots from an African safari reveal a parallel inner journey.